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30 Feared Missing in Florida Straits - 2001-11-20

The U.S. Coast Guard has spotted an overturned speedboat in the Florida Straits believed to have been transporting some 30 illegal immigrants from Cuba. No survivors have been found so far.

After two days of searching, a Coast Guard aircraft spotted the capsized vessel about 70 kilometers southeast of Key West, Florida. "Our C-130 plane located an overturned, 10 meter white vessel with twin outboard engines," said Coast Guard spokesman Gene Smith.

The Coast Guard dispatched two cutters to the scene that are now searching waters around the capsized speedboat.

Relatives of the rafters who live in south Florida and knew of the perilous attempt to cross the Florida Straits say the Cubans left the island early Saturday. The group, which reportedly included more than a dozen children, is believed to have paid smugglers to ferry them to the United States. Although such activity is illegal, Cuban rafters who reach U.S. soil are almost always allowed to stay in the country.

Smuggling vessels are often overcrowded and prone to capsizing. "The Florida Straits is a choppy area to begin with. Weather conditions this weekend may have been a bit rough. Between that and an overloaded vessel, it is an accident waiting to happen," said Coast Guard spokeswoman Daniel DeMarino.

Scores of Cubans perish attempting to reach the United States every year.